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Reading and Riding

When Ted Chaudoir noticed that students on his bus weren’t taking books home from school, he swung into action. Today, his Books on the Bus program provides much-needed reading support.

A few years back, I had a very squirmy four-year-old kindergartener on my bus. I tried different seating arrangements to try to keep him seated, but nothing worked. One day I said, “AJ, could you just please take a book out of your backpack and look through it while you’re on the bus?”

He said, “I don’t have books in my backpack.” Well, I checked, and sure enough, they didn’t have books to take home. That realization stayed with me and a couple of months later, when my wife Dee wanted me to take our adult daughter Alisha’s children’s books to Goodwill, I had another idea.

Ted Chaudoir in front of bus

"Books on the Bus requires someone with a passion for kids, because it will probably always be an unbudgeted program," says Ted Chaudoir. "We do not get compensation for doing this. It is ESPs going above and beyond their job description to benefit students."

I thought I’d bring them on the bus and see if my students might want them. And did they ever! I told them that they could keep it if they liked the book. Within a couple weeks, I had found homes for all of Alisha’s books. Well, a week or two later some kids started asking for more books.

My wife is also a school bus driver, and we agreed that we needed to get them more books! How could we turn a deaf ear to kids asking for books? As the ESP president of my local Association, I attend the school board meetings, and it so happened that at the next board meeting, the school’s reading specialist [Missy Bousley] was giving a report to the board. I approached her after the meeting and told her what we were doing on the bus, and asked if she could find us some books.

You’d have to know Missy to appreciate her response. She is this mile-a-minute walker and talker, and passionate about encouraging kids to read. Trying to talk to her can be like talking to the wind. She’s busy! But my request stopped her in her tracks. She said, “You’re doing what?”

After I told her how and why we were offering the kids books, and how the four- to eight-year-olds were eating it up, she almost spontaneously combusted right in front of me. “Get you books, oh, we can get you books. Can you get all the bus drivers to do this?” I said, “I don’t know, but Dee and I sure could use some books now.”

She said, “I suppose you need picture books for your four- to eight-year-old kids?” I said, ‘Well, I have some middle school and high school kids reading to some of the little ones, so we could use some chapter books too.” Missy says, “You have older kids reading to the younger kids? Peer mentoring, peer mentoring, you have peer mentors on the bus?” I said, “No, I got older kids reading to those that can’t read.” I could see the wheels turning in her head.

Within a week or two she had three different news outlets from Southern Door County interviewing me, where I was able to ask for children’s books.

We got books all right, but we also got a new outlook concerning this little project we had started on the bus. The passionate response from the public about this “idea” inspired Dee and I to create a better working model for the other bus drivers to try. The box of books at the front of the bus was easy for students to access while getting on the bus, but during the route, when the kids want a different book, well, they’re out of luck, as you have to be seated while those wheels are rolling. We tried Tupperware tubs and backpacks but they proved to be just too cumbersome for little kids to handle. I knew what would work, though.

We needed book pockets built into the backs of the seats, but they were expensive and we didn’t have the funds. Unbeknownst to me, this project that we started calling “Books on the Bus” was nominated for an award from the Wisconsin State Reading Association and it won! Well, it wasn’t two months later that our very own
Wisconsin Education Association Council Trust Benefits awarded [our program] one of the two $2,500 Forward Together awards. We now had the money for our seat pockets!

Books on the Bus requires someone with a passion for kids, because it will probably always be an unbudgeted program. We do not get compensation for doing this. It is ESPs going above and beyond their job description to benefit students. It was the collaboration of our union to start funding this project that was key to getting it operating like it is. Now, we have kids donating their own books to the program. One morning, my student, Abbie who’s five, brought me a bag of books and said, “I don’t need these anymore.” I said, “Great, I’ll put them in the book box.”

That afternoon on the route home, I happened to notice her in my mirror. She was aware that kids were looking through some of her books and I could actually see the pride spreading across her face. I could hear her telling other kids that those were her books. As she got off the bus at her house she leaned over to me, and with a big smile she whispered, “I think they really liked my books!”

To learn more about the invaluable work of other ESPs, visit student.

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